Why Addiction Treatment Includes Cognitive Therapy

There are many types of therapies out there, but the one you will frequently find in an addiction treatment program is cognitive-focused therapy. Cognitive simply means any experience related to thinking or mental activity. Because the illness of addiction affects a person’s thoughts as well as the functioning of the brain, it’s important to address those areas of a person’s psychological well-being during treatment.

There are many common patterns of thought that develop with the illness of addiction. Most of the dysfunctional thinking patterns seen among addicts all derive from the way that the brain is affected by addiction. Over time, as the dependence upon a particular substance develops, a person begins to believe that they need the substance in order to survive. This belief contributes to the experience of wanting to quit or stop using but not having the ability to do so, which is a classic sign of addiction.

Even when a person can’t stop using a particular substance, they might have the erroneous belief that that do in fact have control over their use of substances. This and other thinking patterns are common with addiction. The kinds of thinking patterns that are common among addicts as well as those in recovery include:

  • The inability to fulfill obligations.
  • Failure to put oneself first before others.
  • Dishonesty about the addiction, life problems, and dysfunctional relationships.
  • Unrealistic expectations of others and of themselves.
  • Tendency to blame others or external circumstances when they are accountable.
  • Easily triggered by others’ comments and the tendency to take things personally.
  • A failure to live up to one’s promises and commitments.
  • The inability to deal constructively with challenges.
  • Lacking maturity.

Because beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and behavior are so intertwined, having a therapy that addresses the relationship between them can facilitate making different choices when faced with a particular feeling or situation. For instance, if every time you feel stress, you reach for drugs to calm you down, a cognitive therapy might help with noticing your thoughts when you feel stressful and help you identify different choices to cope with that stress versus using drugs or alcohol.

Also, cognitive therapy is not only important for healing addiction, it can also be used to transform thinking patterns, such as those listed above. Just because a person has decided not to use substances doesn’t mean that their cognition is entirely healed. Even when you’re no longer using drugs or alcohol, there are still patterns of thought that might have led to the drinking in the first place that are often still in full swing.

Changing your thinking can be the key to changing your life. If you are in treatment but you are not in a type of therapy, you may want to consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Each of these therapies, in their own way, invite a person to examine their thoughts and make changes to those thoughts. In fact, these therapies can be incredibly empowering. It’s common for a person to feel victimized by their own mind, such as when there are intense feelings. Emotions like rage, shame, grief, and disappointment can make someone want to drink or use drugs if they are not prepared to feel these feelings. Also, stressful thoughts and painful memories from the past can also be challenging. Cognitive therapies can support working through these difficult moments without the use of substances.


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